“Your vision has to be bigger than your obstacles” — David Bianchi on the future of film and poetry

Mark Fielding
October 5, 2022
Photo: Isaac Alvarez

David Bianchi has hundreds of professional credits and is critically acclaimed in mainstream film and poetry, but it was NFTs that made him really pinch himself. He speaks to Mark Fielding about how he's combining spoken word and cinema, and why NFTs are “one of the most important events in art history.”

David Bianchi read his poetry out loud in a Clubhouse room and four thousand people cried. If you’re an artist trying to connect, that’ll grab your attention. It will change how you perceive an audience, your story and what’s possible. “Being in Clubhouse rooms and not having a dry eye in the house when I’m performing this poetry live: it touched me in such a profound way, I can’t tell you how many times I wept.”

Is that why David Bianchi came to web3? No, but it is why he stayed. “What kept me was the emotional attachment to people's emotional attachment to my work.” He recalls asking himself at the time, “Is this really happening? How is this real?” But it was real. Very real, a visceral demonstration of what web3 could do for poets, filmmakers, artists and storytellers of all description. 

Fast forward two years and David has just announced a partnership with Gala to write and produce Razor, a series of sci-fi short films that will be released exclusively on the Ethereum platform. 

“Spoken word cinema? Hollywood said no. They didn’t know what to do with it.”

— David Bianchi

Before we get to Razor and the web3-native entertainment platform behind the project, Gala, what brought him to NFTs in the first place? He didn’t need them. He’s an acclaimed actor, filmmaker, artist and poet, with over 100 professional credits in TV and movies. He’s produced five feature films, founded his own film production company (whose work has been licensed by Hulu, HBOMax, and Paramount), and is even a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Why would he seek an alternative path? Was it an opportunity to recreate himself in a nascent digital world, free of the constraints of middlemen and Hollywood control? Partly yes: he wanted to combine spoken word poetry and cinema in a way that nobody had done before.

David Bianchi is amongst the many influential filmmakers to have embraced web3 technologies as a new way to make films: “It’s one of the most important events in art history.” (Photo: Isaac Alvarez)

“I’ve been producing ‘Spinema’ for 17 years. I was pitching a new film idea to the web2 world.” The ideas was a spoken word series, a social consciousness, inspired by the murder of George Floyd. “Spoken word cinema? Hollywood said no. They didn’t know what to do with it.”

It's not the only time where cultural gatekeepers have understood creativity worse than the creators themselves. A few months later, Beeple was to sell an NFT for $69 million. By then we were deep in the pandemic and David had time on his hands to go down the rabbit hole. His exploration led him to Ephimera, an NFT platform for artists to sell their work as single editions. 

Ephimera had a 250mb maximum file size. That was monumental for David — file size is a major limitation for creators working with video. It meant he could turn a five-minute short into a 1/1 NFT. Ryan LeMasters came onboard to direct and the result was I Can’t Breathe. It became the first award-winning spoken word NFT film. 100% of the proceeds were donated to the George Floyd Memorial Foundation.

In a stroke of serendipity, I Can’t Breathe was bought by MetaPurse in the end. Who is behind MetaPurse? Metakovin, aka Vignesh Sundaresan, the NFT collector who bought Beeple’s Everydays: the First 5000 Days.

Once he had finished the creative process and the sale went through, he was hit by the realisation that something truly powerful was feasible. “NFTs allow us to build creator economies. There are primary and secondary sales in a digital space. Artists can reap the benefits. It’s one of the most important events in art history, going back to painting on cave walls.”

David's spoken word film I Can't Breathe reached critical acclaim across the US.

But it wasn’t just the financial gains and the fairer distribution of wealth for creators that charged his zeal. It was an open ecosystem where filmmakers could interact directly with fans and collectors and build long-lasting emotional relationships, beneficial to everyone. “Now we can build a following. A direct channel between an artist and a community.”

This is a tectonic shift for cinema, he explains. “Film has always been a top-down medium. The executive producers acquire scripts, place talent based on sales and foreign projections, set the budget, shoot the project, test the movie, put it out in the ecosystem and say: ‘this is what you’re watching.’ It doesn’t have to be like that anymore.” 

“It’s one of the most important events in art history, going back to painting on cave walls.”

— David Bianchi

Creatively, film3 is out in the open, in sharp contrast to how the sector has traditional made films. “Hollywood is going to raise an eyebrow, they’re going to poke around. They’ll be like, “You’re going to let people read 70% of your pilot episode before it shoots?” Oh to be a fly on the wall when that conversation takes place. At first the Hollywood juggernauts will be confused, then intrigued, and then playing catch-up.

By this point, David expects filmmakers will be able to make and own Hollywood-level motion pictures as NFTs. But without Hollywood. “With the community involvement of film3, we are learning from members what they want to see, how they’d like to consume their art, and how much interactivity they would like to have in the process. Then we, as creators, get to offer that.”

“With the community involvement of film3, we are learning from members what they want to see, how they would like to consume their art, and how much interactivity they would like to have.”

— David Bianchi

What might that film3 offer look like? “Access to the directors, show runner, cast. Maybe you’ll be able to go to pre-production table-reads on Zoom. Even real life table-reads. Maybe an NFT will come with a cameo or minor role in an episode or film. I intend to do all of those things and more at Gala.” 

A web3 powerhouse seeking to redefine entertainment, Gala has made its presence, and a $5bn war chest, felt across the gaming and music verticals of web3. Now, with David’s advice and his production company Exertion3, they’re building GalaFilm, a first robust web3-based streaming platform, featuring 2D and 3D animation, live action cinema, across fiction and nonfiction.

“Web2 will have to sit up and take notice.”

— David Bianchi

Gala calls it a 'win-win-win economy' that overcomes the obstacles the wider film3 movement aims to solve: new filmmakers being discovered, rewards for those who deserve them, IP ownership, and interoperability. As the space develops, Gala intends for their gaming, music and film platforms to co-exist, each adding to the other. A kind of cross pollination where music, film and gaming come together to create a unified experience. 

Excitedly, David promises “we’re gonna come up with some real cool stuff, no doubt about it.” That begins with Razor, a sci-fi drama about neural implants, coder culture, and blackmarket crime. Due to file size limitations on Ethereum – a major bottleneck for filmmakersRazor will be launched in eight 10-minute episodes.

“Once we start making this high-calibre, storydriven content that’s highly sought after by web3 communities, web2 will have to sit up and take notice. They’ll want to distribute it, but they'll only be able to license it. They won’t be able to exploit it.” Film3 is a creator economy built for the retention of IP and all the subsequent advantages that brings: ownership history, derivatives, merchandising rights. Offering licensing deals rather than acquisition? Some people won’t be happy.  

David believes Gala could end up replicating the mini-majors of the late 90s. Will it become a web3 Lionsgate, Screen Gems, or Miramax? Studios that knew how to create content – at a fraction of the cost – tell stories and take the audience on an emotional journey as well - if not better - than their bigger brothers and sisters? A community and ecosystem is quickly being made that could make the ambition a reality. Will Razor be the first step in the adventure? Time will tell.

“I’m already battle-hardened.” (Photo: Thierry Brouard)

If it does, how will David handle the pressure? “Having come in as an actor and filmmaker and lived with cockroaches for my first three years in L.A. I'm already battle-hardened. I just have to show up to the best of my ability and come from a place of honesty and integrity.” 

There is no doubt that Gala and David Bianchi have the will, experience, and vision to pull it off. With Razor, they have a story. Then it comes back to the community at the heart of everything web3: musicians, painters, and poets can create masterpieces alone, in a bedroom. Film is a collaborative effort, but it's also complicated.

“I’m already battle-hardened.” 

— David Bianchi

“It’s a very hard thing to create,” David explains, suggesting that it's one of the hardest mediums to master. “That’s why there are so few of us in NFTs. With film, you can’t fuck it up. The light is under, over or properly exposed. The sound is under, over or properly modulated.”

To get all the pieces aligned, film3 will need that community. Then, can it make films that stand out? Movies that are excellent? Can it create the incredible content the world craves? David says it can. “Performances have to be grounded, focused, and tell an honest story — and bring text to life in a palpable way that creates a catharsis between the audience and the performer.”

What it takes to make a film hasn’t changed. What’s new is that everyone’s invited, and you don’t need Hollywood’s permission, anything is possible. All matters, David effuses, is that “your vision has to be bigger than the obstacles.”

By leveraging community to make better cinema, David intends to beat web2 filmmakers on their own terms: “Film has always been a top-down medium. It doesn’t have to be like that anymore.” (Photo: Isaac Alvarez)
By leveraging community to make better cinema, David intends to beat web2 filmmakers on their own terms: “Film has always been a top-down medium. It doesn’t have to be like that anymore.” (Photo: Isaac Alvarez)
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Mark Fielding
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Driven by an acute awareness that the internet experience of his children will be vastly different to his own, Mark writes about emerging technology, particularly artificial intelligence and blockchain, with one eye always on the future. As an independent writer, he explores web3 for LVMH, metaverse events of RLTY, and writes gaming stories and lore for the highest bidder.

Collaborators and honourable contributors: @davidbianchi